Dancing Around that Religion Thing

There are two things that they say one should not discuss in public settings; politics and religion. Yet, my new book Exodus takes the latter topic head on, and examines what causes people to act violently in the name of religion.

I realize that the time has come for me to have these conversations online, whether I like it or not. You can’t drop a rock this big in the middle of the pond, and expect to walk away without getting a little water on you.

Still, I am reticent to discuss religion here. It’s always a recipe for volatility.

Perhaps the Exodus conversation will be more of a commentary of others. The book may just be the impetus to have those discussions.

I hope the book does not offend the majority of my Christian friends. Exodus focuses on Christian fundamentalism mostly because it takes place here in the United States. One of my greatest fears is a militarized Christian right, a result of life as a Jew who experienced antisemitism.

One could easily swap out Christianity and substitute Islam or another faith. This is a story that’s been replayed throughout history, and it is destined to continue well into our future.

I know the various flavors of Christianity hold great spiritual value, and comfort millions of people. In my adult life, I’ve come to embrace certain aspects of the faith, and know a few prayers by heart. I’ll never call myself a Christian, but I’m happy to admire the faith’s spiritual value.

One of the characters in the book, Mordecai, represents what I really think of Christianity. In the end, Mordecai’s tolerance and willingness to serve the community in the face his hosts’ ignorance become saving graces.

What do you think about religious conversations online?

31 Replies to “Dancing Around that Religion Thing”

  1. Geoff, my experience so far has been that on-line is a good place to publish one’s religious views (in a well-thought out and reasonable way – typically longer-form), but an awful place for conversations and debate. I far prefer to dig deep into these issues one-on-one, off-line, where reality lives and heart issues can be explored. Once you get into right-wrong grenade-throwing on-line, it never ends well. People are complex, truth is multi-faceted, and Twitter is 140 characters…

    1. Great point. The conversations are dangerous. Much like politics and you have seen me have a few blew ups on the political front. Experience is a great teacher, and the medium is not necessarily the right one for deep spiritual matters.

      I hope you are doing well. Looking forward to catching up soon!

  2. I think it comes down as to whethor or not you can entertain questions or casting doubts about the bedrock of your life. And, can you accept that people don’t believe everything you do without shaking your own beliefs? Look at sports and team loyalty for a parallel. How many discussions about that topic erupt into arguments? Or, trying telling a bunch of rapid Joss Whedon fans that he’s an overblown hack and watch the knives come out.

    I think there’s some serious psychology at work, some kind of mental reward system that gets reinforced through belief and trying to follow that belief. I’ve heard that the purpose of LDS missionary work, by sending the elders into extremely difficult recruitment sessions with a small change of success, is really to build the strength of faith and belief of the elders more than anything else. Pretty much like salesmen building up resistance to rejection through tons of cold sales calls.

    The difficulty with discussing this topic is that, in many cases, the conversion swerves to be condemnation or conversion.

    1. I think you nailed it at the end of this comment. No one wants to hard sold a fatih. And no one wants to be told they are an ignoramous or that they are going to tell. Righteousness is never a pretty thing to watch. That’s why so many of these conversations devolve. If you take offense in such moments, the bate is almost irresistable.

  3. It’s a rare person who has the ability to selflessly listen to another. This requires confidence in one’s own convictions. This also requires an openness to new ideas that might challenge your own. Confidence, appreciation, respect and flexibility are required for a meaningful dialogue about religion.

    And it doesn’t help when the mainstream media pitches divisiveness, stereotypes and fear.

    1. I have to admit, it is difficult to be open, but when you do open your mind, it’s hard not to see some beauty in any religious writing. No doubt on the media. They are just god awful.

  4. Dude, I love the trailer, and the personal exodus. I want to interview you about this book, and use this trailer in my blog as well. As you know I am crazy about my ancestors. My father’s side had abolitionists, and my mother had a grandfather from Selma who fought in the Civil war for the confederacy. I am a pantheist, but my ancestors were crazy religious. The time warp of using Harper’s Ferry and the argonauts is totally the bomb. It makes it very clear that it is fiction. Go, Geoff!!

    1. Thank you so much, Pam! I think you’ll like this then. Almost every family has some sort of religious crazy in it. But the fight for freedom will appeal to you, and your abolitionist side as well.

      How are you doing? Have you had a good summer so far?

      1. I am well, and about to meet my first pro genealogist in PA in early Sept. How can we set up an interview about the book/Exodus? Skype perhaps?

        1. Skype seems like the way. geoffliving. Email me at geoffliving @ geofflivingston . com to set up a time, please! Thank you so much for offering this!

  5. Growing up, my mother was Roman Catholic, my aunt (who lived with us) was the evolution-didn’t-happen-the-earth-is-6,000-years-old variety of Born Again Christian. My father was an atheist. My immediate cousins were non practicing Catholics who all married Jews. We lived in an area that had an many Jewish places of worship as Christian places of worship. When we had get-togethers, we were just fine eating our neighbor’s Greek Orthodox influenced cooking or our Muslim friends Halal cooking or, well … anything.

    It wasn’t until after college that I can recall hearing other people refer to my lifetime friends and family in a derogatory way based on their religion, color or ethnicity.

    Travelling beyond NYC was quite the shock to me.

    Whoa! Did I totally just thread-jack this post? Sorry.

    :)

    1. It really gets crazy in some homogenous areas. I have had some really crazy statements and questions directed at me because I’m Jewish. I am always stunned that people are that ignorant, but it happens. The lack of conversation doesn’t help, I’m sure, but everyone is so volatile…

  6. You’re right to be concerned. And for those who think it’s “paranoid thinking”, I’m here to tell you that that is exactly what happened in former Yugoslavia.

    There was a systematic, long term, infiltration of political and high-level military positions by the Serbs, who also happened to be Orthodox Christians.

    When former Yugoslavia blew up in civil war, the Serbs had the resources of the Yugoslavian military (4th largest in Europe at that time) at their disposal.

    As far as having convos about religion, I’m all for it. If people get pissed off, fuck ’em. And if you find people that can tolerate opposing views, well, then you’ve probably found a friend.

    1. Good reminder about Serbia! Over and over again we see this. It’s still the same with Sunnis and Shi’ites, etc., etc. We will keep seeing it, I am afraid.

      Congratulations on the new Triberr! You must be thrilled.

  7. You can do it Geoff. I’d like to think that people can be passionate about their religion but also be tolerant of others’ religious beliefs. I know that doesn’t happen, but you can do this. I cannot wait to read the book!

    1. I respect others faiths. I just don’t respect them for trying to convert me, if that makes any sense! Attraction, not promotion, LOL! Hope you are doing well, and thank you for your support, Susan!

  8. I agree, religion and politics are not subjects I wish to discuss online. I’ve met few people who tolerant of the other side. I can’t understand why, but that is how it is.

    1. It almost always feels like someone shows up with a gasoline can and a pack of matches. That is never a good recipe.

  9. I’ll admit it. I absolutely cannot discuss religion in a friendly fashion. It has caused me some personal pain and I’m very, very bitter about it. So I tend to avoid it as much as possible. However, I *LOVE* reading about various religions {fiction as well as non-fiction}, for the historical and myth-building aspects. I think it’s the writer in me. I will also admit I feel much safer broaching a conversation online, from the safety of my chair as I sit in my PJs, than in person, where I have to deal with someone’s facial expression and tone. And THAT is the anti-social, anxiety-riddled hermit in me. I’ll def. be reading your book, though, no worries on that count!

    1. We have much in common. I struggle with hard conversations anyway, much less the religious and political ones. Yikes! But, also like you I am fascinated with the spiritual and love reading texts. Thank you for your support, Andi!

  10. As a Christian, I’m looking forward to reading the book. I value your discernment and communication style, and understand your perspective, so I think I will appreciate the book.

    It is always interesting to see the terms “different flavors of Christianity” – don’t think that was God’s plan. Humanity has a bad habit of taking the simple things and making them complex. It still came down to “Love the Lord your God…and Love One Another”. Do those two things, and the rest falls into place. No judgments, no hatred, no bias/prejudices, no envy or jealousy. That’s all just poison in our system, and we propagate them generationally.

    It’s disappointing.

    And yes, this comes from a guy who makes snap judgments, who thinks 3/4 of the drivers on the road with me went through recent lobotomies, who struggles with the fiscally irresponsible, etc. I am flawed, and I accept it. I feel remorse for those flaws and endeavor to become a better man.

    I think I gain a little ground in that battle every day, but I’ll always simply be a man that can never lead a perfect life. Nobody can, so we need to quit passing that judgment on everybody else.

    1. LOL, I think God is God, and man made flavors if that makes any sense. I am often struck by how even disparate faiths like Christianity and Buddhism share many of the same spiritual principles, yet they are not the same.

      I often exit out of such debates by saying who am I to know which is right or wrong? I just believe in something and the fact that their are principles I should strive towards so I feel better and in line with the way the universe is. And, I, too, am horribly flawed. I don’t think perfection is attainable for us mere mortals.

      Cheers!

      1. Oh, I DO think there are still absolutes…and that means there are still areas of definite RIGHT and WRONG. But those should not be focused on race/religion/creed/etc. Instead, the absolute rights and wrongs are hunger, sickness, human trafficking, etc.

        It gets back to the age old question: who’s my neighbor. The answer is anyone who is needy. And the key is that we must find a way to serve them – without judging them. And that’s tough for all of us. I know it is tough for me because I understand and contribute to feeding widows and orphans…but I struggle with providing any form of income to people who made poor decisions…yet they do not work while still having the latest electronic devices, beer in the fridge, or simply chasing other vices.

      2. Oh, I DO think there are still absolutes…and that means there are still areas of definite RIGHT and WRONG. But those should not be focused on race/religion/creed/etc. Instead, the absolute rights and wrongs are hunger, sickness, human trafficking, etc.

        It gets back to the age old question: who’s my neighbor. The answer is anyone who is needy. And the key is that we must find a way to serve them – without judging them. And that’s tough for all of us. I know it is tough for me because I understand and contribute to feeding widows and orphans…but I struggle with providing any form of income to people who made poor decisions…yet they do not work while still having the latest electronic devices, beer in the fridge, or simply chasing other vices.

  11. Religion and spiritual beliefs have been the cause of much strife throughout the history of man. Whether it was the crusades, the inquisition, idolatry, or atheism, people have shown fear and intolerance of those who believe differently.

    I regard religion with a healthy dose of skepticism. It has been used as a means of control. Since the beginning and In almost all religions, there has been an element of control. The religious and spiritual leaders have sought and exercised control over their willing subjects.

    I suppose it may make some folks uncomfortable to discuss because deep down, they may regard their beliefs as unfounded and weak and based in little more than innuendo, rumor, fairy tale, and fantasy.

    1. You will love this book. It is very much about making that point about control.

      So glad to hear you got Andrea’s book finally! I think you will love it. Are you back from VK now?

      1. I just read Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, so Civility should be nice follow on.

        I’m looking forward to Exodus. Much of what spawned religious beliefs and practices, is still relevant today.

        Early man was more like an animal. Life was simply about survival until he began to be able to communicate. That was the beginning. Worshiping the unexplainable. What caused the sun to rise and set? What caused the wind? What caused fire, changing seasons, death and birth, and so forth. Since there were no tangible explanations, it must have been something mystical and spiritual. Man’s logical nature created a need to explain what they did not understand. The simplest explanation was that a higher force must be responsible for all of these things.

        You can imagine how much power you would have had if you were the one who, not only understood these things, but could explain them and summon their powers at will.

        Pretty cool stuff.

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